2020 Australian Search and Rescue Awards

The National Search and Rescue Council’s (NATSAR) Australian Search and Rescue Awards are presented by the NATSAR Council in recognition of outstanding contribution to search and rescue within the Australian region.

This year’s awards recognise 13 recipients who were instrumental in saving the lives of many people, conducting dangerous operations or contributing to search and rescue over their extended careers.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said it was a great honour to present the awards to recognise the brave actions of the recipients.

“These awardees are a credit to our community, putting themselves in harm’s way to come to the aid of those in distress on land or at sea,” he said.

“Because of the actions of these people many others are alive today, safe with their families and friends. These are acts worthy of national recognition.”

There are two award categories this year, the Professional Search and Rescue Award and the Long-standing Contribution to Search and Rescue Award. Each category has an overall winner and a commendation.

The winners of the 2020 Australian Search and Rescue awards are

Professional Search and Rescue Award

Recipients: Western Australian Search and Rescue Dive Team

Professional Commendation Award

Recipients: ‘Westpac 1’ Rescue Helicopter Crew

Long-standing Contribution to Search and Rescue Award

Recipient: William (Bill) Folder, Tasmanian State Emergency Service.

Long-standing Contribution to Search and Rescue Commendation

Recipient: Tony Clitheroe, Rockingham Volunteer Marine Rescue, WA.

The NATSAR Council is a cooperative body responsible for Australia’s national search and rescue arrangements. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority chairs the Council. Members consist of delegates from the Australian Defence Force as well as State, Territory and Federal Police.

Details of the search and rescue events that prompted the nominations for each award are outlined below:

Professional Search and Rescue Award

Recipients: Western Australian Police Dive Team

  1. Sergeant Bradley Bell
  2. Senior Constable Alan Trist
  3. Senior Constable Christopher Jacob
  4. Senior Constable Luke McCulloch
  5. Ashley Skinner (Esperance Marine Rescue)
  6. David Macmahon (Esperance Surf Life Saving)
  7. Jacob Oversby (Esperance Surf Life Saving)

Incident details:

The WA Police Dive Team were nominated for their work over a nine-day protracted search and rescue effort, involving four separate operations, in multiple locations across the state resulting in lengthy travel and demanding timeframes.

The first incident involved a missing recreational diver a 400km drive away.

The following day, the Dive Team were deployed to an incident of a person washed off rocks. The team drove and flew 1100km the same day. The search effort lasted several days.

On their return journey, the Dive Team was redirected to Esperance for a marine incident involving a fatal shark attack. This incident was both physically and emotionally demanding and involved the retrieval of a body. Two sharks remained at the scene while the body was retrieved. The collaboration and courage of all people involved in the search were particularly important for the family and friends of the missing person.

The Dive Team then flew another 530km to respond to an incident involving a search for possible remains in challenging and strong currents.

The Dive Team showed remarkable endurance and commitment to their role in responding to multiple consecutive marine incidents across the state of Western Australia.

Professional Commendation Award

Recipients: Westpac 1 Rescue Helicopter Crew

  1. Graeme Anderson (Helicopter Pilot),
  2. Sean Flanagan (Air Crewman Officer),
  3. Sean Vallance (NSW Ambulance paramedic),
  4. Tim Starkey (NSW Health Doctor)

Incident details:

On Thursday 11 July 2019 Rescue Helicopter ‘Westpac 1’ was tasked to conduct a beacon search, 15 nautical miles off the coast of Newcastle, NSW.

Severe weather conditions and warnings were broadcast, involving 8°C out of water and 19°C in water temperatures, 3-5 metres swells, gusting winds from 15 to 30 knots and high cloud base cover, above 2000 feet. The aircraft arrived overhead and located five people in the water beside an upturned catamaran yacht. NSW Ambulance Paramedic, Sean Vallance was winched down beside the upturned vessel, in high seas and very rough swell. He retrieved two survivors via an accompanied winch extraction. Sean found three other people next to the upturned yacht who were deceased.

The crew of Westpac 1 showed exceptional skill and teamwork in particularly challenging conditions, which were above and beyond most search and rescue taskings. The professionalism and dedication of the well-planned and highly trained crew enabled the successful rescue of two lives.

Long-standing contribution to Search and Rescue Award

Recipient: Tasmanian State Emergency Service member William (Bill) Folder


Bill Folder began as a volunteer with the Tasmania State Emergency Service (SES) in 1977.

Bill was a driving force behind establishment of the Southern SES Search and Rescue Team in Tasmania. Bill has been a well-respected, dedicated, and reliable member of the Clarence SES Unit and the Search and Rescue team. Bill also trained this team in remote area and alpine operations. Bill’s experience and enthusiasm holds him in high regard with his peers. SES Regional Staff and Senior SES volunteers have noted the exceptional amount of support Bill has always provided, including to managers and volunteers.

Those nominating Bill state:

‘Bill’s contribution towards police Search and Rescue has been invaluable. He has a broad knowledge of southern Tasmania and his insights into search areas are always well received.’

Bill has attended many Search and Rescue operations over the years, tirelessly working to save lives, and is an extremely worthy candidate for the National Long-standing contribution to Search and Rescue Award.

Long-standing contribution to Search and Rescue Commendation

Recipient: Tony Clitheroe, Volunteer Marine Rescue, Rockingham, WA


Anthony (Tony) Clitheroe’s passion for the ocean has driven his dedication to the Volunteer Marine Rescue at Rockingham, WA. Tony is the VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) Communications Officer and conducts radio support to rescue vessels, monitoring these vessels which they are conducting search operations. The role includes extensive after-hours callouts

Tony was nominated by his grandson, Anthony. Anthony notes that after Tony’s wife passed away, Tony lost a huge part of his life and felt a loss of direction and motivation. To help him get through one of the darkest times of his life, Tony turned his sights to Volunteer Marine Rescue, Rockingham and believes he has found his purpose in life.

At 83 Tony holds onto his passion.

Tony’s grandson made a video to capture Tony’s smile and passion for the job: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGO5X7BKAH4&app=desktop

A choice of imagery and video is available here https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qjtnju3sqnt5fj3/AACRsHA4_NU8aovgRsZHh2Pqa?dl=0

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